One Surefire Way to Improve Mental Health

Jean M. Twenge, a San Diego State University psychology professor, argues that smart phones are contributing to Millennial’s worsening mental health. The data is concerning.

Here’s her Atlantic essay (hyperbolically) titled “Have Smartphones Ruined a Generation” and here’s an interview with her from yesterday’s PBS NewsHour.

In summary, the less tethered young people are to their phones, the better their mental health.

Why I Don’t Own a Cell Phone

Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together—Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (2011), is a modern sage. Next fall, my writing students and I will read and discuss Chapter Eight, Always On. Maybe we’ll start with that subtitle. Do we expect more from technology and less from each other? If so, why? Since my first year college students will be card carrying members of the first always on, internet generation, that discussion could fall flat. More how? Less than what?

Dig this excerpt:

These days, being connected depends not on our distance from each other but from available communications technology. Most of the time, we carry that technology with us. In fact, being alone can start to seem like a precondition for being together because it is easier to communicate if you can focus, without interruption on your screen. In this new regime, a train station (like an airport, a cafe, or park) is no longer a communal space but a place of social collection: people come together but do not speak to each other. . . .

When people have phone conversations in public spaces, their sense of privacy is sustained by the presumption that those around them will treat them not only as anonymous but as if absent. On a recent train trip from Boston to New York, I sat next to a man talking to his girlfriend about his problems. Here is what I learned by trying not to listen: He’s had a recent bout of heavy drinking, and his father is no longer willing to supplement his income. He thinks his girlfriend spends too much money and he dislikes her teenage daughter. Embarrassed, I walked up and down the aisles to find another seat, but the train was full. Resigned, I returned to my seat next to the complainer. There was some comfort in the fact that he was not complaining to me, but I did wish I could disappear. Perhaps there was no need. I was already being treated as though I were not there.

Some people are incredulous when they learn I don’t own a cell phone. My students, last fall, for example. One couldn’t comprehend how I grocery shopped without the ability to call home and double check on what was needed.

Some of my friends would say I don’t have one because I’m a cheap, antisocial bastard. Only partially true, my parents were married when they had me. But those charming attributes aren’t the main reasons. I don’t have one in large part because you haven’t convinced me that your lives are substantially better with them. Convenient at times no doubt, but just as often I hear you lament how dependent upon them you are. At least among middle aged cellphoners there’s a nostalgia for simpler times when people weren’t always accessible, people sometimes made eye contact, and you might meet someone new in public.

Of course, ambivalent cellphoners could turn off their phones on occasion, but that defeats the whole purpose of instantaneous accessibility. Everyone expects you’re all in.

I’m sure my daughters are tired of hearing me say that I’m going to buy the next iPhone. I probably will conform sometime in the future, but I know once I take the plunge, my life will change. Thanks to you, I’m just not convinced it’s for the better.

Why I’m Not Selling Apple

A friend, who has made it a point to resist Apple’s takeover of the personal tech world, emailed yesterday. The subject heading was “Time to Sell”. There was a link to an “Apple’s in decline” article and a follow up with an ominous excerpt. Full disclosure: this post doesn’t relate closely enough to the blog’s stated purpose, but I have to do something to stem the tide of anti-Apple email gloating.

Apple investors have to expect blowback when the stock slides. It just comes with the territory. Anti-Apples get more and more annoyed with every $100 rise in its share price. There’s probably just a touch of envy involved.

Late summer Apple hit $705, today it closed at $450. So the haters are slapping themselves on their backs in glee.

My email “friend” got his Masters in Business Administration at the University of Washington, not the Anderson School, so some remediation is in order.

Principle 1) Buy low and sell high. Apple’s on sale. Compared to the recent high, $255 off per share. In the next year or two, is it more likely to fall another $250 to $200 or rise $250 to $700? I’m betting on the later.

Principle 2) Never invest more than 5% of your total portfolio in a single stock. Apple’s sell-off hasn’t bothered me as much as UCLA’s inability to rebound the basketball because it’s 1/20th of the pie. Imagine having 20 children, one who goes off the rails. By the time you notice, she’d be halfway back to the straight and narrow (especially if she produced a less expensive iPhone for China).

Principle 3) When it comes to equities, be sure to take a medium or long-term perspective. If, for any reason, you might need to cash in your stock investments in a few months or years, avoid stocks, especially those of individual companies. I’m not selling because I don’t need to. I can wait on that 5% of my portfolio. Indefinitely really. That’s why I rolled a portion of my AAPL investment into a family charitable fund mid-summer. When it comes to our equity investments, VTI is the apple pie, VEU is the scoop of vanilla ice cream, and AAPL is the whip cream.

Principle 4) Have realistic expectations. In other words, don’t be ahistorical. Understand the “law of large numbers” and don’t get overly excited on run-ups. What did a lot of investors do in Las Vegas, California, and Florida when real estate prices exploded in the early 2000’s? They extrapolated. “Oh, I can easily earn 20% next year too.” After yesterday’s sell-off of $63, Apple is up 8.13% over twelve months. That’s only disappointing if you assumed it would return 30% annually. Maybe it’s turning into a single’s hitter. Which is fine for me because I’m a Mariners fan.



The Coming Ed Tech Tidal Wave

Will smart phones eliminate the digital divide? That’s the title of an interview article with Elliot Soloway in The Journal Digital Edition. Here’s a video version of the same content. And finally, here’s his company’s website with a “contact us” tab in the upper right.

I don’t know enough about Soloway to know if he genuinely cares about improving teaching and learning or if he’s simply out to enrich himself.

Of course already extensive cell phone usage among young people is going to increase over time, but that doesn’t mean every K-12 student in the U.S. will be using a cell phone for educational purposes within five years. That’s his claim, but more accurately I suspect it’s his hope because he just happens to have created a company that outfits local districts and schools with personal cellphone learning devices.

Unfortunately, I can’t find anywhere on his website where I can place a bet on his claim. So maybe he’s just blowing smoke. I’d like to put $1k into escrow based on my belief that there will be at least one student somewhere in the U.S. in September of 2015 that isn’t using a cellphone device in their classroom. Maybe a kindergartner at a Waldorf School somewhere in Vermont?

The larger question posed by Soloway’s snake oil is whether more personal technology in the classroom is going to translate into achievement gains. The burden is on the techies to explain why that might be true. Soloway’s argument is extremely weak and only adds to my skepticism that personal technology is a panacea for improving teaching and learning.

An even more pressing question is whether more personal technology in the classroom is going to reduce the achievement gap. Again, the tech zealots have to do a much better job explaining why that might be true than Soloway does in the linked material above.

The achievement gap exists mostly as a result of outside of school factors. Uneven teacher quality also plays a large part. Soloway is silent on both of those essential factors.

Teachers and parents have to be on guard against tech salespeople who are desperate for a chunk of the textbook millions that will be increasingly up for grabs.  Headlines like this, “Georgia State Senator Hopes to Replace Textbooks with iPads” are going to be increasingly common.

At school board and related meetings a healthy skepticism requires us to ask the following types of questions:

• How will the personal technology device you’re selling improve the quality of teaching?

• How will it help students develop 21st century job and citizenship skills and sensibilities?

• Will it reduce the achievement gap? If so, how?

• What unintended negative consequences have you discovered through pilot studies and what are you doing to mitigate those things?

• If our district or school adopts your gadget, how much money does your company and your employees and you stand to make?

• If we adopt your device, what will you do to restrict image advertisement and direct marketing of commercial products to our students?

• If we adopt your device, how can we be assured you won’t try to influence the content of our curriculum?